‘Passion for Trash’: A Chapter Exploring the Emotional Drive Behind Zero Waste Warriors
Originally posted on my website alexacsmith.com
“Success is not only in the hand. It’s in the heart.”
Cook. Paint. Puzzle. Movie. Repeat.
This was my quarantine mantra for the months of March through July. Any bit of spare time not spent hunched over my desk illuminated by my blue-light machine was likely spent on one of these activities. One dull Saturday afternoon, I decided to indulge in the mind-numbing venture of film. After thirty minutes of weary browsing through the Netflix recommended page, I uncovered a beacon of childhood bliss. This classic film ushered a grin to my face although I had no recollection of its plot. All I knew was that The Lorax projected an ethereal aura that brought me to a place of pure happiness and optimism. Hoping to assimilate some of that aura into my dingy dining room and transport back to a world I couldn’t quite remember, I clicked “play.”
Immediately, I was struck by Danny DeVito’s raspy and embracing voice as the vibrantly orange Lorax strutted out onto an animated theater stage. His opening line, “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees,” was followed by a pan to an eerily familiar metropolitan oasis of plastic, construction, and disregard for nature. A town the Lorax calls “Thneedville.”
Hearing the name of this fictional city made me shift in my chair with discomfort as I recalled my first time viewing the movie in my seventh-grade biology class. It was right before Christmas break, and my teacher treated us to a film fest right before we went off for the holidays. Attempting to feather our brains with something somewhat science-related, my teacher, Mrs. Franklin, selected The Lorax. Little did she know, nor did I until my most recent viewing, the Truffula seed would be planted in my brain and blossom into a passion for trash not more than a decade later.
So many aspects of this film had a profound impact on my beliefs and values. The song “Let it Grow” (which I somehow knew all the lyrics to) is an anthem dissuading fast fashion’s exploitation of trees and other natural resources. The exposé of decaying tree stumps on once lush Truffula forestland left a hole in my heart still tender to this day. The menacing laugh of Thneedville’s mayor as he pitched O’Hare plastic-bottled air haunts my nightmares. All of these bits of imagery seemed a reflection of my own ignorant suburbia.
Unlike other thought leaders in this book, I did not grow up in a scrapyard surrounded by the consequences of consumerism. I am not a beach baby enraged by surfing excursions soiled by Coca-Cola bottles and various plastic shreds. Until the end of my second decade on Earth, I was completely shielded from the waste epidemic despite the fact I lived three miles from a landfill. However, my second viewing of this heartfelt film unmasked my intolerance for plastic, resource degradation, and evil corporate instigators like Mayor O’Hare. Reminiscing on this shockingly progressive G-rated moving picture refilled my emotional gas to fuel my zero-waste shift.
Since viewing The Lorax, I have invested in reusable bags, bulk containers, shampoo bars, and waste-free toothpaste (yes, that exists). My inner drive for sticking it to the man far transcends temporary desires for take-out or trinkets from the drug store. Like the engraving in the prophetic stone from the movie states, I have found my “unless.” Even in a world tormented by deforestation and biodiversity loss depicted in the story, the Lorax still expressed a glimmer of hope in spirit, which he deemed the “unless.” Stepping onto his soapbox, he wisely professed,
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Similar to the fuzzy orange fellow, I have activated this passion. Doing so, I unleashed positivity to live a more lively, valuable life unified with both nature and our economy. Because of my emotional bond, I started to transform my life into one that is sustainable and, to me, worth living. This bond is not only an asset to waste reduction, but it is absolutely imperative to establish a long-term commitment both personally and professionally.
When telling my friends and family about my journey towards zero waste or telling people about the premise of my book, one question I get more than any other is: why?
Why go zero waste? Why should we invest time and money into circularity on an individual and collective level? Why should this movement in particular be prioritized among the slew of other environmental movements that seem imperative to address these days?
I could go on and on about the statistics related to waste production and overconsumption, and I could talk your ear off discussing the science behind the connection between waste and climate change. I could deliver dozens of case studies on the issue of environmental justice stemming from our linear production and consumption systems, and I could even present you with lengthy budget sheets displaying the economic incentives of transitioning to circular business models. But none of this would matter.
No matter how much evidence I present, the odds of you being swayed are slim to none, unless you actually care about social and environmental sustainability in the first place, or unless you have some personal values or circumstances related to the issues being discussed.
Passion for circularity can come from a plethora of sources, some of which are highlighted through the waste warriors highlighted in this chapter in my book (“Passion for Trash”), including:
- Lauren Singer: a leading figure in the zero waste movement (known for her TED Talk Why I Live a Zero Waste Life) who was inspired by her self-recognition of her own hypocrisy as an environmental studies student
- Nicole Bassett: a self-proclaimed tree-hugger raised by environmental activists and her Wet’suwet’en neighbors in British Colombia who started an apparel company called The Renewal Workshop
- Sarah Kaeck: a mother of two from New Haven, Vermont who founded her company Bee’s Wrap to protect her family from the dangers of micro-plastics
These leading figures in the waste-reducing movement were not just spurred by their love of nature and the planet. They were otherwise emotionally implicated in the waste issues they were trying to address, which added a boost in resilience and a more clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish.
“Once someone gains clarity on their purpose and understands why veering toward circularity is beneficial, it becomes much easier to accomplish. Whether personal hypocrisy, deep-rooted childhood values, or filial devotion are the source of fiery emotion, sentimental attachment is a driving force of inspiration and a necessary boost through adversities of zero-waste living. This “spear in the chest” phenomenon, which prompted Ray Anderson to give Interface a 360-degree change in direction, can transform the way we see not only business, but the world.”
To learn more about this subject and read the full chapter, check out my book, An Economic Eclipse: Shifting Toward a Sustainable Future by Eliminating Waste, on Amazon!